Digital Marketing Megatrends 2017
Learn the 5 pillars of multichannel marketing and 9 actionable trendsFREE DOWNLOAD
It’s important to know what other organisations in your market are doing on social media, to give you context for the current role social plays in customer communication. The aim of competitor analysis is to learn from the state of play and identify strategic opportunities.
Please note that I also advocate researching the wider market to learn what works from brands that have a respected social presence. They may not be directly relevant to you in terms of content or product, but the techniques and social platform tools they use to engage customers should provide useful insight.
This article looks at the types of competitor analysis you can and should be doing to help inform your social media strategy.
Your goal is to build a clear picture of how other organisations are currently using social media. This needs someone to spend time on their profiles, reading content and checking how customers respond. For example, if there are lots of comments on Facebook, what type of comment and is it always from the same people, or do they get a varied audience?
Put yourself in the shoes of a real customer – start following the organisation, post a reply or comment, ask a question. Check how proactive they are in response and keep a note of how long it takes to respond. For example, on Twitter do you get a thank you for following them and how quickly do you receive this? Also check whether the replies are automated or manual – if everyone gets the same tweet, it’s an automated script running, not a real person engaging with the audience.
The screenshot below shows a Twitter feed comparison of 3 leading US apparel retailers. It demonstrates the visual similarities and difference between the profiles – you’ll notice that Freepeople and Abercrombie are very similar, dominated by strong visual posts, but Bonobos has more text updates in the timeline.
Is this good or bad?
Check to see where customer activity is greatest. Bonobos actually does a lot of retweeting of other people’s content but has low level engagement and a very low activity rate in general; the 17th – 19th tweets in the timeline dated back to Black Friday weekend in November, as this screenshot is from mid-March!
Seek to answer the following questions:
Some industries have been smart at aligning social media with customer service, telcos being a good example. Brands like BT have dedicated Twitter accounts for customer care, separate to the marketing accounts. Twitter data shows significant growth in tweets aimed at brand and service handles, rather than general handles. And companies are getting better at responding to service requests – according to Harvard Business Review, 46% tweets had no response in Feb 2014 vs. 38% in Feb 2015.
There’s a 122 page guide from Twitter outlining the era of customer service on Twitter:
“Fifty years ago, the 1-800 number revolutionized customer service. Customers suddenly had a free, live connection to companies from the comfort of their homes. We are at a similar inflection point for how brands deliver customer service: today, people are contacting brands via Twitter with the expectation of a helpful and human response; all on stage for the world to see.”
So take a peek at how well your competitors support and service their customers via social networks. Check to see if there are any complaints – are they proactive in responding, do they make the response public so people know they’re listening?
Also check for the tone and style of response. Are they helpful and flexible, or do they get confrontational because they don’t like criticism? If your competitors are poor at providing customer service socially, it could be a quick win for you to put this in place.
Seek to answer the following questions:
You can’t do everything at once, so it pays to use a structured approach to comparing competitors strengths and weaknesses to help you identify gaps. You’re looking for the following things:
I find it helpful to create a simple competitor matrix and rate each capability based on a set of criteria. For example, I use FQR criteria (my own made up cocktail):
I split out each channel into a set of activities I want to compare competitors against, and use a simple numbered rating system – whoever gets the highest score is the best performer. It’s not a scientific method but it does give me a useful comparative starting point.
Seek to answer the following questions:
There are many tools you can use to analyse your competitors. If starting out with a small budget it’s best to tap into free tools like LinkTally (created by @danzarrella at Hubspot) and SharedCount, which lets you submit URLs and see where it has been shared socially. You can reduce the manual overload by signing up for a paid subscription, which gives access to tools like bulk URL upload.
There are others tools on the market that provide different competitor analysis options, including Social Crawlytics and BuzzSumo (great for seeing which Twitter users have shared content + identifying influencers).
Being active doesn’t mean being heard. There’s a big difference between an active social channel and an engaged social audience. Smart marketers measure success based on audience engagement, not level of activity from their marketing team.
So take the time to trawl your competitors’ profiles and see which updates are getting the most attention from followers:
How does this help?
Knowing what works and doesn’t helps you shape your social media content plan. If you know that the core Twitter audience love polls, then you should incorporate this tactic into your activity. Also, if you align this learning with the competitor strength/weakness analysis, you can find the high value opportunities. Below is a quick and easy way to visualise opportunities:
Let’s start with an obvious statement – don’t seek to replicate what your competitors are doing.
If all you do is the same, what incentive is there for people to pay you attention when you’re not adding value? By all means learn from what they do well but adapt it to suit your organisation and customers – make sure it aligns with your business values. For example, Palace Skateboards has a unique, slang copy style that works for its customers. If you copy that approach, it may not tally with your other content and could come across as tacky if that’s not your personality.
Customers can react strongly to social campaigns that don’t resonate with their vision of the brand. House of Fraser’s #Emojinal campaign is a good example. I’m not saying it’s a bad campaign, I’ve not seen the data, but it certainly divided opinion and attracted negative social feedback because it was a marked departure from the core brand style.
So take the insight you gain from doing competitor analysis and use it to shape your strategy, but don’t let it become your strategy. You may decide to emulate elements of other brands’ campaigns and that’s fine but always apply your brand lens to each activity to ensure it aligns with your goals, vision and comms plan.
So this is step 3 in the Smart Insights 12 step series on social media strategy and planning.
Did you find it useful?
Do you think there are any gaps i.e. would you carry out any other types of competitor research to inform the strategy?
Please join in the discussion with comments and your own experience. Keep an eye out for next month’s article, “What is the role of organic and paid social media?”.
Missed the previous articles? Catch-up here:
By James Gurd
James is an Ecommerce consultant and owner of Digital Juggler, an E-commerce and Digital Marketing consultancy helping retailers develop, execute and evolve E-commerce strategies and optimise their digital channel. With a background as a Head of E-commerce and also agency side as Head of Client Development, he has experienced life on both sides of the fence. He has helped companies like A&N Media, Sweaty Betty and Smythson to manage RFP/ITT proposals. and been lead consultant on high profile projects for Econsultancy, Salmon and Greenwich Consulting. He is a guest blogger for Econsultancy, for whom he also writes best practice guides, regularly contributes to industry events and co-hosts #ecomchat, a weekly Twitter chat for e-commerce knowledge sharing. For e-commerce advice and support, connect with James on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Start the discussion on our community and social networks
Recommended Blog Posts
3 examples demonstrating the benefits of social listening for financial services In a decade, social media has gone from somewhere we share photos of our cat, rant about politics, get passionate about sport, and learn how to use eyeliner – …..
Popular Blog Posts
Statistics on consumer mobile usage and adoption to inform your mobile marketing strategy mobile site design and app development “Mobile to overtake fixed Internet access by 2014” was the huge headline summarising the bold prediction from 2008 by Mary Meeker, an …..
Landing page examples and best practice advice Discussion of web design in companies who don’t know the power of landing pages still often focuses on the home page. But savvy companies know that custom landing pages are essential to maximise conversion …..
Use the RACE Planning System to get ahead in your digital marketing The first edition of my book Internet Marketing: Strategy, Planning and Implementation from 2001 included a popular template for creating what we then called an Internet Marketing Plan. Today, …..